Instead of doing one big list of records that I thought were great, good, or pretty fun, I decided to split it up this year. If you missed the previous installment, here it is in link form. While some of the stuff I'm about to cover here may have come out in the first half of the year, I probably just missed it. Or listened to it, liked it, then forgot about it until all of a sudden it really clicked with me. Or I'm an idiot. Pick whichever excuse suits you best, that's fine with me. Oh, one thing before we start…
Next year, I'm going to do one of these album round-up things every month. In an attempt to not have these pieces balloon like this, and to make the most out of this here newsletter, in 2023, I'm going to be a bit more regular about posting. Err…emailing? Whatever it is, I'm going to be doing more of it. Maybe I'll start writing stuff that's not just a list of records with little blurbs underneath again? Anyway, until then, here's some stuff I liked that I hope you might enjoy too.
Alex G, God Save The Animals
Contrary to what so many of my newsletters may have you believe, I do occasionally enjoy indie rock. I've liked Alex G for a while now but, even then, I apparently must break with consensus, because I thought his last album, House of Sugar, was his worst in a looooong time. It wasn't bad per se, but what I always liked about him was that he took fairly conventional '90s alt-pop songs and found a way to dial up the production in ways that gave it an air of the experimental. House of Sugar felt like his "I want to be a producer" album and, sure, that's fine, but no part of it felt memorable. God Save The Animals is a huge bounce back for me, literally taking the song "Runaway Train" and naming it "Runner" is such a funny move and also speaks to him doing what I like best: being the weirdest dude on '90s rock radio. [stream it/buy it]
Autopsy, Morbidity Triumphant
I love Autopsy. That said, their post-reunion material has been hit or miss. The EPs have been short and punchy (the aforementioned hits) while the LPs have been overlong with a bit of filler mixed in (the misses). Morbidity Triumphant is the band's best full-length from their reunion era, with songs that take that rock 'n' roll boogie of Mental Funeral and marry it with the punk-inspired playing the band was embracing near the end of their original run. Plus, this thing sounds great. It's got a clean, audible production that sounds like a band playing in a room while still feeling crushingly heavy. No triggers, no sample replaced snares, just loose, ugly death metal. Give it up for the kings. [stream it/buy it]
The Chisel/Mess, split 7-inch
Oh split 7-inches, what an incredible format that's also incredibly inconvenient. Years ago (about 20 of them) I bought 7-inch splits as a way to learn about bands in a more economical fashion. For $3 I'd get a couple songs from two different bands and potentially find a new favorite along the way. Now, not only are they obsolete, but even the most fervent record collectors I know are over 7-inches as a format. But this split delivers everything I want out of one. The Chisel songs are great, and the second one hits that anthemic, slightly melancholic Oi sound that almost ends up sounding like a Christmas carol. As for Mess, I was unfamiliar with them, but these two songs hit hard and will make me keep an eye out for what they do in the future. A nice throwback that makes me feel like I'm a kid again. [stream it/buy it]
Big surprise here, I love the debut album from Dazy, OUTOFBODY. 12 songs in 26 minutes is a perfect formula, as these songs never overstay their welcome. Not only that, James Goodson expands the project's sonic scope by bringing in much more Beatles-esque elements while still retaining the big, fuzzy bite that he's become known for, so bless him for that. In a just universe, Dazy would be the biggest band in the world. Hopefully, in this deeply unjust one, he can settle for being the fourth biggest band in the world. [stream it/buy it]
Dream Unending, Song of Salvation
The hype was heavy on Dream Unending's debut album Tide Turns Eternal, and it was deserving of that. Pulling heavily from the death-doom sound of the Peaceville Three (just google it) but with a guitar tone plucked from The Chameleons' Script of the Bridge, it was a promising debut that felt just a bit lacking to me. Song of Salvation locks in this sound perfectly, as Derrick Vella and Justin DeTore absolutely nail what they were going for in a way that makes Tide Turns Eternal feel like a trial run. This thing is lush, grandiose, and, when it decides to be, absolutely oppressive. I don't know if this is a metal record that non-metal people would like, as it is very fucking nerdy and prog-adjacent, but damn, it has crossover appeal I rarely see out of something with death metal vocals on it. Worth your time if you feel like trying something decidedly different. [stream it/buy it]
Faceless Burial, At The Foothills of Deliration
Unlike Dream Unending, this is the kind of metal that I don't expect any non-metal fan to like. In a crowded death metal field, Faceless Burial is one of those bands that just have it, that magical thing that somehow elevates them above their peers. Every record from this Australian trio is better than the last, and At The Foothills of Deliration is an absolute titanic work. Colossal riffing, some of my favorite drumming in all of death metal, and songs that get stuck in my head regularly, all of which make this just a cut above everything else. Maybe one day the band will break here the way they rightly should. Until then, they'll be the best Australian export this side of…uhh…the bloomin' onion? [stream it/buy it]
Gladie, Don't Know What You're In Until You're Out
I've always found Augusta Koch's ability to write hooks that sound familiar but never feel cliché to be an absolute strength of their songwriting. Their melodies lock you into their songs immediately, making you feel comfortable in their presence but never giving you that feeling of deja vu that makes you think you've heard them before. As Gladie has expanded to a full five-piece band, the compositions have become more dynamic, allowing Koch to bring vocal melodies in that feel surprising and totally welcome. This is a real fun, poppy record that still has plenty of meat on the bone, making it one of the better pop-forward releases I've heard this year. [stream it/buy it]
High Vis, Blending
I was late to High Vis' first LP. I heard some people describe it as post-punk and, given that we are living in an era where every new band is trying to answer the question, "What if Wire sucked at fucking everything?" I didn't really have an interest in hearing what this was all about. Then I actually did and, hoo boy, were people wrong. This is punks doing a take on Britpop and Madchester, taking Oasis, Suede, et. al., and giving it some of that working-class, Oi-style grit. After 15 years of punks breaking up their bands to start shoegaze or post-punk bands, it's refreshing to hear that tired formula work in a different way—and one that doesn't sound so utterly self-congratulatory in the process. Blending is one of those albums that, if I may call my shot here, will likely end up signaling a bit of a sea change as people get tired of dudes shouting over monotonous beats and instead shift to something a bit more tunefully urgent. Or maybe I'm a little too optimistic about what our future holds. I've been wrong many times before. [stream it/buy it]
Lifeguard, Crowd Can Talk
The talk of Chicago's DIY scene (along with Horsegirl) Lifeguard turn out another great EP that splits the difference between '90s-leaning indie rock and post-hardcore. All the praise the band has gotten this year has been well earned, and Crowd Can Talk is probably my favorite batch of Lifeguard songs yet. At times. the way the vocals sit over the music reminds me a bit of Jeremy Enigk in Sunny Day Real Estate, a reference the band—and its fans—may hate, but it is what it is. [stream it/buy it]
Malignant Altar/Gosudar split
Astute readers will notice both of these names from last year's list. Unfortunately, this is Malignant Altar's final release, with one new song and a cover signaling the end of the band's all-too-short tenure. On the flip side is Gosudar, a Russian band that came out of nowhere and floored me last year. Putting a 10-minute long track on a split is one hell of a flex and, thankfully, it doesn't disappoint here. One of the best metal splits that I can think of in recent memory. [stream it/buy it]
Meat Wave, Malign Hex
Music writers love to say the word "underrated" because it implies they know better than their audience. I'm as guilty of it as anyone, and that's because I'm going to say that Meat Wave have been one of the most underrated rock bands for basically their entire career. Perhaps it's because they don't neatly fit in any one lane, instead sitting a bit outside of the mainstream consciousness, being not totally punk, not totally indie rock, not totally anything. Chris Sutter's lyrics have this unique way of looking at the world through a sideways gaze, finding the humor in the mundane shit that we've all just come to accept in our daily lives ("Leopard Print Jet Ski," "Ridiculous Car"). Plus, the supernatural bent he puts on top of it really shows that society is full of lunatics who don't fully realize they're that far out there. Malign Hex is another great album from a band that's yet to miss, so go out and buy it so you too can talk about how deeply underrated this band is. [stream it/buy it]
Militarie Gun, All Roads Lead To The Gun (Deluxe)
It's a bit of a cheat including Militarie Gun here. I've covered them extensively, and the bulk of this release is comprised of the previously released All Roads Lead To The Gun EPs. But the last two tracks, "I Can't Stand Busy People" and "Pull It Out," both of which are collaborations with Woolworm, are two of the songs I've listened to the most. Generally, rock bands suck shit at collaborating with other acts, but Militarie Gun has found a way to make it absolutely invigorating. When their debut album drops next year, the band's profile is going to increase all the more, so get in early and brag about being cool to all your friends. [stream it/buy it]
Mindforce, New Lords
I don't want to overstate things but Mindforce's debut LP Excalibur is one of the best hardcore albums of the past decade. Obviously, following that up is no easy feat. Thankfully, they played their hand perfectly. The holdover EP Swingin' Swords, Choppin' Lords was a bit of a miss—not bad, but the same formula without the same results. New Lords, however, sees Mindforce tweak the mixture and do exactly what they needed to do on a follow-up album. The riffs are still unmatched, Jay's vocals remain truly singular, and the songs are now harder. They are still packed full of singalong moments, but these songs are built for hard moshing and not just posi jumps. Big respect. [stream it/buy it]
Morbific, Squirm Beyond The Mortal Realm
Probably the least accessible death metal record on this list if you're not already predisposed to the sound. The production on this thing is weird. There are some deliberate choices being made here and, at first, I thought they were the wrong ones. But once I got the LP and cranked it up, it really clicked for me. If you've ever wanted to hear what it sounds like to be submerged in a swamp for an hour, this is a pretty good approximation of it. [stream it/buy it]
NNAMDÏ, Please Have A Seat
Ask any writer who's done it and they'll tell you that NNAMDÏ is one of the most difficult people to write about. That's not because his music is intentionally difficult, but it's because his sonic fingerprint is so distinctly his that you really can't describe it to someone who hasn't heard it before. Putting words to a singular talent is always a challenge and, trust me, I've tried. Each of NNAMDÏ's recent albums has felt like a different flavor but still feel like a piece of a larger whole, and Please Have A Seat is another excellent addition to a catalog that is unlike any other. [stream it/buy it]
Osees, A Foul Form
Having been a fan of Osees for a while (at least four name changes ago) I fell off on them when they went full prog-garage. I couldn't imagine a sound less tailored to what I wanted out of music, so A Foul Form is a nice return to a more primal, focused energy. Billed as the band's love letter to punk, the reality is it's not exactly that, because they were never really a punk band. That said, it's a potent, ripper of an album, one that ups the tempos and cuts the jammy nonsense. With a focus on actually writing songs again, hopefully John Dwyer and co. are back on a hot streak. Then again, there's also the very distinct possibility their next release will be a full-album tribute to Edgar Winter or some shit. Only time will tell. [stream it/buy it]
Phobophilic, Enveloping Absurdity
Are you like me or are you a normal person? What I mean by that is: Do you sometimes elect to not listen to a band or record, even when you've been told it's up your alley, just…because? For some strange reason, this is a thing I'm guilty of, and Phobohilic was the most recent victim of this. I was familiar with them from their split with Sedimentum, I knew this LP was coming, I saw it getting rave reviews, but I just decided I wasn't going to listen to it for some reason. When I saw they were going out on tour with Undeath I figured I should finally give them a shot and, damn, this thing smokes. Dirty, dirgy death metal but with a lot of Finnish influence tossed in, which is a combo I think works super well. Those active, sinewy riffs have a way of poking through the muck like a worm in dirt. Really goes to show how being a stubborn, obstinate idiot is so rarely worth it. [stream it/buy it]
It's rare that a single hits me hard enough to make me revisit it with the same vigor I do an album but Pony's "Peach" was one of those rare exceptions. It almost sounds like a song that falls in the exact midpoint between Liz Phair's indie era and her maligned 2000s material, but without stealing any moves. It's got a soft sway in the verses that makes that little ramp up in the chorus hit just right. With a vocal melody that's cut straight from '90s pop radio, this is one of those tracks that, when I close my eyes, I can picture the accompany music video running right along with it on MTV. [stream it/buy it]
Rigorous Institution, Cainsmarsh
In the interest of being honest with you, dear reader, I thought this album was magnificently overhyped when I first heard it. I still think it's fairly overhyped, but it is good all the same. Pulling heavily from Amebix and early Neurosis (two bands who have made it much less fun to listen to them these days) Cainsmarsh is a crust record that doesn't reinvent the wheel but also isn't going for the tired, stadium crust sound of Tragedy. It's not wholly unique, but it's a refreshing take on a sound that has largely been trapped in the annals of time. If you've ever had a butt-flap patch on your pants, this is for you. If you don't what that means, probably not. [stream it/buy it]
Ripped To Shreds, 劇變 (Jubian)
Andrew Lee has contributed to some of my favorite metal releases in recent memory, and his main project, Ripped To Shreds, has long been my favorite of the group of bands going for that Swedish, melodic death metal sound. 劇變, the band's third full-length, is the first where it feels like Ripped To Shreds is an actual band, and that benefits things immensely. These songs feel more lived in, and you can tell they were the product of people playing off one another a bit more than Andrew orchestrating everything himself. Perhaps that was still the case, but I hear more of a live band in these songs, and seeing them take the big risk of writing a 10-minute death metal song works because they actually pull it off. [stream it/buy it]
Savageheads, Service To Your Country
If this record came out when I was a kid, Savageheads would have been my favorite band on the planet. It's blisteringly fast hardcore that recalls the UK82 sound but has so much melody baked into the guitars that every riff feels like a singalong moment. At a time when it feels like everyone's trying to be a D-beat band and doing a serviceable job and nothing more, this Savageheads album is one that feels like an instant classic. [stream it/buy it]
Sedimentum, Suppuration Morphogénésiaque
Death-doom of the Incantation-style has been driven into the ground the past couple of years. What first felt like a welcome return to the genre's roots has now become as trendy and uninspired as literally anything else that's getting actual critical praise. That said, some of these death-doom bands are actually quite good at it and Sedimentum is one of those. I could dock them points for having ripped off Blood Incantation's logo (they've since changed it) and having cover art that hews a bit too close to the band Worm's, but whatever, trends are trends but good riffs are forever and this record has those on lock. It's not doing anything particularly new, but it is doing something well, and that's still commendable in my book. [stream it/buy it]
Stress Positions, Walang Hiya
Anyone who has heard me talk about hardcore in the past five years has had to listen to me talk about C.H.E.W., a Chicago band that took vicious fastcore and injected it with a whole lot of personality. C.H.E.W. broke up during the pandemic, but in its place is Stress Positions, which takes the musicians from C.H.E.W. and introduces vocalist Stephanie Brooks. This band sounds a lot like their predecessor, and that's a good thing. There are subtle evolutions around the margins but, in a live setting, Brooks' stage presence takes the band up a couple of rungs. Their energy is so powerful and unique that if this band could fit on a bill alongside Gulch, Spy, or any other fast act and feel entirely unique. See them live if you ever get the chance. [stream it/buy it]
Syndrome 81, Prisons Imaginaires
This is a record I've recommended to a few people and every single one of them has described it differently after listening to it. I love that, because I also feel it's pretty hard to pin down. It's got bits of Oi, post-punk, goth rock, and, uhh, AFI all in the mix, making for anthemic punk that doesn't fully adhere to any single sub-genre. Big, singalong hooks—assuming, of course, that you speak French—mix with guitars that sound like they're being played in a drain pipe, while the drummer plays along to a Sham 69 record. It's a unique mix, and while it may age horribly, I find it rather refreshing right now. [stream it/buy it]
Warthog, Warthog (2022)
Despite every punk loving Warthog, the band didn't click with me until their third seven-inch in 2016. It was the first one to be released without a title, so people just called it Warthog and, in a sense, it felt like a soft reboot of the band. Prior to that, it was fairly obvious this was the dude from The Men's hardcore band. But then they found their sound and built their lore, and it paid off. With their fifth EP (and third to be self-titled, or maybe untitled) the band once again offers four tracks of raging, ripping throwback hardcore punk. It's raw and relentless, just like this music should be. May they never make a full-length, because this kind of stuff thrives on the seven-inch format. Sometimes ambitions get in the way of quality, and hopefully, they know that. [stream it/buy it]
As a little bonus, here are my favorite shows of 2022. These are things you can't personally experience so it maybe is just gloating but, whatever, thought it'd be fun all the same.
1. Green Day at Metro
I've been lucky enough to see Green Day a lot over the years. The first couple times I did, back in the early 2000s, the band was on fire. Especially on The Pop Disaster Tour, where they very clearly were trying to blow blink-182 off the stage. But since then, the band's stadium rock persona has all but ruined them. When I saw them on their "small club tour" at the Aragon in Chicago, they played the old stuff, but Billie Joe couldn't stop injecting everything with his say eyyyyyyyoooooooo" schtick and, often, they wouldn't even finish songs once they got to the bridge. It was utterly disappointing. I actually live-tweeted the experience, which should say how utterly disengaged I was with the band's set.
When the band announced they'd be doing an actual small club show ahead of their Lollapalooza headlining set it felt like the only chance I'd have to see them play the kind of show I'd always wanted to see. Unfortunately, I missed out on tickets due to Metro's site thinking I was a bot when I hit the checkout page and, thusly, my hopes of attending the show were dashed. I fired off a tweet about it and, a couple hours later, got a response from someone saying they had an extra ticket. Assuming I was being fleeced, I proceeded with caution. Turns out it was the band's management and they were going to put me on the list. I know this sounds like such an insane brag, probably because it is, but I think it's absolutely insane that someone from their team A. follows me B. saw all the critical stuff I've tweeted about them and C. decided to overlook that and get me into the show. I couldn't believe it until I was in the venue, but that's exactly how it worked.
After opening with their standard show openers, the band went totally off book. There was a microphone next to the drum riser that clearly was going just to the band's in-ear monitors and, every couple songs, Billie Joe would saunter over, call out the next song, and the band would rip into it. They had a giant set list on stage, and while a good chunk of those songs were played, a lot of it was totally off the cuff. They took some requests form the crowd, including songs they hadn't played in 20 years, and worked their way through them until they forgot what happened next. Better yet, the band was just playing the songs and keeping the hammy stuff to a minimum. It was a dream. When they finished the last song, Billie Joe said something about, "We'll be thinking about this one for a long time." While that may have just been polite banter, it felt genuine in the moment. When Nina and I got home, we were absolutely buzzing, unable to fall asleep. The next day, I hung the screen-printed poster from the show in my office so it's always in eyeshot. I'll probably never stop thinking about it.
2. Mercyful Fate at Hard Rock Casino
It took me years to appreciate King Diamond as a vocalist. Even now, I fully understand why someone wouldn't like it. His insane falsetto is not an easy sell, and it can often be extremely grating if you're not already tuned into his very specific wavelength. I tried his solo project (also named King Diamond) for years and it just felt too corny and contrived. But Mercyful Fate, specifically their '80s output, worked. There was something about it that felt atmospheric in a way that most things labeled as such really don't. There's just an aura to it that's impossible to put into words, and it makes all my reservations about King's vocals melt away.
Getting to see the band in Gary, Indiana felt like a bit of a farce. I mean, here's this guy in intense makeup, using actual human bones shaped into an upside-down cross as a mic stand, belting out "Gaaarrrryyy, Indiaaannnaaaa" between songs with complete conviction, and I'm 10 minutes from where I grew up. The setting made absolutely no sense. Yet, the band's set was perfect. I could have easily watched them play another hour, and I feel truly lucky to have seen them play because who knows how many more tours they'll have in them.
3. Iron Maiden at United Center
Another band I doubt I'll get to see many more times before the band members have to stop doing this thing. Every time I've seen Iron Maiden has been an absolute treat but this one felt special. Maybe it was the circumstances of it, coming out of a pandemic and getting to watch a band operate at this grandiose scale, or the fact Nina came with and I got to watch her have her mind blown by this band I've loved since I was a teenager, but whatever it was, it just felt special. It's rare I leave an arena show feeling like I've underpaid for my ticket, but few performers put on a show like Iron Maiden. The immersive backdrops that change with each song, the flamethrowers, the plane flying out over the crowd, and that's just to name a few very specific things. Plenty of artists can use screens to simulate new environments to the crowd, but Maiden's practical effects are just a cut above everyone else. I know that makes me sound like an old geezer but, whatever, it's the truth.
4. Turnstile at Subterranean
Yet another gift given to me by Lollapalooza. I've seen Turnstile a bunch over the years but this show felt like both the end of an era and start of a new one. Standing by the sound booth, when the band kicked into the set I felt the floor of the venue shaking so hard I thought it was legitimately going to collapse. I caught eyes with the sound guy who gave me a panicked look followed by an accepting shrug, and that felt totally appropriate. As Turnstile rightly continues to ascend to new heights, this felt like the last time I'd get to see them play in a room this small to mostly hardcore kids. This band deserves everything they're getting, and I'm glad I got to have one last go-round with them in the kind of setting that made them who they are.
5. Algernon Cadwallader at Metro
I speculated during the pandemic that once shows start happening again we'd see a lot of reunions, and while that's not a particularly unique observation, I've been thankful to see it be correct. While reunions are often met with cynicism by people who were the first time, that's felt slightly dampened in the present moment. After all, I am the guy who saw Algernon in a bunch of DIY spots when they were a band. But, guess what? This show was better than all of those. For one, I actually got to hear the vocals for an entire song without a guy clutching a PBR falling into the mic stand. To get to hear these songs given the clarity and heft they'd always deserved, and to see the joy from both the band and crowd during the set, it was absolutely electric. It may have been a reunion tour, but it's wasn't a night of nostalgia. It was a reminder of how vital those songs are, and how they brought a lot of people together, both then and now.